CYC-Online 101 JUNE 2007
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What we do (and donít do)

Jack Phelan

We Child and Youth Care practitioners seem to constantly struggle with being clear about what we do. We are often assigned a focus by other professionals, which creates a skewed job description. Basically, social workers want us to get parents to behave in non-abusive ways, or get youth to stop doing dangerous behaviors. School officials want us to get youth to attend, sit still, face forward, and learn the required information. Juvenile justice professionals want us to get youth to stop committing crime and show up for hearings. Mental health professionals want us to keep youth or family members busy and happy between therapy sessions.

In short, each professional group wants Child and Youth Care practitioners to support them in their focus, which is usually based on legislation. We donít fit neatly into these roles, unless we choose to merely control behavior, which is a real limitation on our possible effectiveness.

I will use a story, which happens to be true, to illustrate:

A Child and Youth Care worker had been hired under a community enhancement grant to work with the youth and families in a small Alberta town. She was given a tiny office, which didnít meet her need for getting together with small groups of youth, and was paid less than the other youth professionals (social worker, probation officer). Her supervisor, a social worker, saw her as a community truant officer and youth crime preventer, who would infiltrate the youth sub-culture and help control things.

The Child and Youth Care practitioner gets a phone call from a 14-year-old boy, who asks her to accompany him to court the next day. He is well known in the town, as is his whole family, for being a trouble-maker. The Child and Youth Care worker has known him for a year and has developed a relationship with him through a variety of activities and conversations. She has had no involvement in his court issues. They go to court together, and on the way he tells her that he wants to get out of trouble, asking her to support him to get his community service hours done over the coming months. She agrees to help, and later in court when the judge, who is thoroughly frustrated with this youth, asks him to explain why he has continued to ignore previous probation conditions, the youth speaks clearly and respectfully (to everyoneís surprise), apologizing for his previous attitude, and asking for a chance to redo his punishment, citing the agreement made with the Child and Youth Care worker. The judge happily agrees, and the Child and Youth Care worker gets congratulated by the judge, the probation officer, and the local social worker for managing to get the youth to behave so appropriately. She replies to each person that she didnít get the youth to behave well in court, nor did she see that as her task. She follows up with each person individually in the next few days to explain the Child and Youth Care role.

The Child and Youth Care worker met with each professional colleague and explained that she has been carefully exposing this youth and others to experiences that build relationship ties both with her and the community. She describes rock climbing expeditions, older youth to younger children reading programs, group discussions, home visits, etc. which create relationships that allow youth and families to discover their own strengths. Her goal is to support them to change unhelpful patterns and build hope. She manages to address each professionalís concerns while maintaining that her approach was not behavior management, or social work, juvenile justice, etc.

The result was a raise, an appropriate office space and support for returning to school to finish a four year Child and Youth Care degree.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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